Tag Archives: Coca Cola

Spinach is not the key to happiness. And neither is Coca Cola.

Sex sells. But happiness might sell even better.

Marketers know that very well. They claim that purchasing their products – as opposed to their competitor’s – make a consumer happy. I already commented a bit on this a couple of months ago, in two posts about the psychological effects of food, and about marketing food with happiness claims.

Since, I came across this sign:


Beyond this a funny and simple sign in front of a bar with a cheeky claim about happiness, I also saw a perfected version of the message “Buy us = happiness” from Coca-Cola.

The giant sugared drinks producer is becoming the strongest commercial happiness provider. After taking happiness as a theme via ‘Share Happiness’ and ‘Open Happiness’ campaigns, it now has launched regional campaigns under the name ‘Choose Happiness’. In Belgium, one of the posters alludes to Brussels’ symbol Manneken Pis. It looks like this:



The science of food and happiness states that marketers very occasionally do have a point when they claim that their products can increase people’s happiness or positive emotions. ‘Comfort foods” fatty acids affect neural signals in the brain, and can result in a weaker response to sad images. And the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter most linked to positive emotions and happiness, can be aided by products like spinach, turkey and bananas. Before you stock up on spinach, consider that this implies a limited positive link, and by no means a direct and automatic effect. Spinach is not the key to happiness.

And, sorry to disappoint you, neither are gin-tonic and Coca-Cola. The sugar rush of a Coke can give a momentary positive stimulus to your mood. But the same is true for a Pepsi, and neither equals happiness. Slogans like ‘Choose Happiness’ misleadingly suggest an automatic effect. Of course we rationally know that all the expression of fun, social status, and the good life are artificial tricks to seduce us.

But by claiming happiness, marketers enter a very personal life domain. If, as Coca Cola seems to argue, people have full control of their own happiness (‘success is a choice’),it implies that the easiest way to be successful is by consuming their product. It also transmits the message that failure is a choice, and that is our own fault if we are unhappy. That’s not something that I as a consumer want to hear from a company.

In a way, I prefer the cheeky slogan of a bar, saying that a gin tonic brings us closer to happiness. It’s a lot more playful way of attracting attention.

If I wanted a drink of happiness, I’d go for a gin-tonic.

Food & happiness II: selling happiness

Food products can bring comfort and even happiness, I wrote last week. But let’s be more precise: some food products can bring some moments of happiness. And marketers are happy to try and make us believe that its exactly their products that bring us closer to what we are longing for: happiness.

I am do not know a lot about the history of marketing, but I came across an interesting blog post by Bruce Bradley. He claiming that the way that marketers have sold their products changed over the duration of the 20th century. Whilst initially, Coca Cola advertised their products with its features (‘delicious, refreshing’), they have  gradually moved up in their claims. In the 1930s, the perceived product benefits (superior qualities, ‘America’s favourite moment’) were used to sell coke. In the 1950s, Coca Cola rewarded consumers on an individual and personal level for choosing their products (‘the sign of good taste’). And more recently, it’s about emotional benefits: ‘open happiness’.


Source: Bruce Bradley (www.brucebradley.com)

Happiness: the highest value to sell?

Nowadays, brands do not communicate the product itself as such, but promote it by linking it to higher values. Happiness probably is the highest value that we can aspire to. If not happiness, what is it in life that we are searching for? Indeed, it’s impressive how consistently marketers across different brands and food products are ‘selling happiness’. Some examples beyond Coca Cola:

  • The most famous of all: McDonalds’ ‘Happy Meal’ .
  • Unilever’s ice cream brand (Ola in Belgium, going by other names in other markets) claims that ‘ice cream makes u happy’
  • Coffee producer Illy invites you to ‘live happILLY’
  • In the US, Lay’s did a campaign around ‘happiness exhibit’, asking people to send it happy photo’s.
  • Also well-known: Coca cola did a campaign with the slogans ‘share happiness’ and ‘open happiness’

Basically, I’d eat myself into obesity from all the fat and sugar in all these products before I become happy! And if I finish binge-eating a bag of Lays or a bucket of Ola ice cream, I feel guilty and sad rather than happy.Of course there is no sense in any of the claims. By associations themselves with happiness as a virtue, happiness marketers try to communicate something bigger than their products. The claims aren’t only insensible, they are also potentially dangerous for public health. Maybe the commercial should come with a sort of disclaimer, similar to alcohol or tobacco: happiness effects not proven.
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It’s the act of cooking that increases happiness

Ultimately I believe that it is not so much the act of consuming, but the act of producing that gives food the magic that is associated withs happiness effects. Baking is one – although by no means the only – example. Human beings are creators. We want to make something new and claim it as ours. A home-made cake almost always tastes better than one from the supermarket.

Dan Ariely, already mentioned earlier on the blog, calls this ‘the IKEA effect’: we value things more when they are ours. A great example is the cake mixes that were being sold from the 1950s. The first cakes mixes required nothing but the addition of water. They sold very badly. The producers than changed one thing: they took out eggs and milks from the mix. Sales went up from this point: housewives felt that they had contributed to the product and  could claim the cake as ‘theirs’.

Happiness is made with our own hands

In the 21st century, so many people working behind a computer produce nothing concrete. The output they generate is in data, text and numbers. There is nothing tangible. Doing something physical, like baking a cake from scratch, weeding the garden, or creating your own painting allows you to show something real and tangible as your product. Spending time on baking your bread, cup cakes or biscuits is a ‘pill-less prozac’, claims a UK campaign group citing research associating baking with lower mental health issues. Happiness doesn’t come out of a bag of crisps or a bottle with a famous logo on it. It comes from what we do with our hands.